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R3 Symposium returns this semester to discuss participatory justice


Dr. Andrew H. Whittemore, Associate Profesor at DCRP teaching in the Land Use and Environmental Planning specialization, stands in front of New East on Wednesday Oct. 27. Whittemore, along with four other panelists will host a symposium exploring the multitudinous ways advancing participatory justice benefits everyone.

The seventh session of the Race, Racism, & Racial Equity (R3) Symposium will be held virtually on Thursday, Nov. 3 at 12 p.m. This semester's symposium focuses on “Highlighting Participatory Justice Scholarship: Working to Advance Racial Equity."

The R3 Symposium was originally planned to be an all-day, in-person event in April 2020, but as the world shifted to online, the symposium was forced to do the same. Due to the pandemic, the one-day event transformed into multiple sessions that have been held over the past two years. 

“The whole series is highlighting research that in some way is working to advance racial justice,” Allison De Marco, R3 co-convener, said. 

De Marco said she appreciates the shift to a virtual platform, as it allows the event to be more inclusive and involve a wider variety of perspectives. 

This session will focus on participatory justice and what that looks like in various communities. Participatory justice is the importance of participation in the decision-making process from individuals most impacted by a certain decision or outcome. 

“I think of it (participatory justice) as giving folks that are closest to the issue the primary voice in coming up with solutions,” De Marco said.  

The panel includes Iheoma U. Iruka, Andrew H. Whittemore and Ariana Ávila, among other guests. Each panelist will have time to discuss the specifics of their individual research and its implications. 

Iruka’s research focuses on centering the voices of Black parents and how communities can work collectively to fight issues surrounding racism. Her research aims to ensure that these issues are not only being discussed but also actively worked against. 

“What are we really doing to try to activate the change?” Iruka said. “Whether in local governments or communities, how are we actually doing this work?”

De Marco said Whittemore's research looks into the connection between the increase in the number of Black elected officials in Durham and how this has resulted in more equitable zoning. His research aims to understand the influence of elected positions on equitable communities and structural barriers. 

Ávila is a doctoral candidate at UNC whose research examines food sovereignty among farm workers, specifically focusing on food insecurity in Immokalee, FL. Ávila said her interest in the area is sparked by her personal background, as she was raised in a farmworker family in southwest Florida.  

“I'm interested in looking at food insecurity by using the framework of food apartheid, where food apartheid is highlighting the structural reasons as to why lack of food access or poor quality may exist in certain places and how that affects the people who live in those places,” she said. 

The session aims to explore the panelists’ research and amplify student work which does not always get the promotion it deserves, De Marco said. The session will emphasize the importance of working collectively to push for racial equity by exploring how participatory justice is imperative. 

Iruka said she views the symposium as an opportunity to engage the UNC community in conversation that discusses "hard truths" and realities regarding racial inequality. She believes that opening up this type of conversation can help the community better understand what they as individuals can do to work toward justice. 

“We can only get to the next side if we go through it, rather than try to go around it,” she said. 

The panel is open to all and registration is available on UNC’s Diversity and Inclusion website.  


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